In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of patients who are seeking natural remedies for ailments, ranging from depression to cancer and everything in between, rather than more traditional avenues, like surgery and prescription drugs. To meet patient demand, there has also been an increase in the number of naturopaths - or those who call themselves naturopaths - in both Pennsylvania and throughout the United States. While naturopathy is a great alternative to traditional medicine and should be recognized as such, prior to legislation signed in 2016 in Pennsylvania, nearly anyone could call themselves a naturopath doctor, and actual naturopaths - who went to school and received certification - didn’t have to register with the state. The new Pennsylvania law will change all that.
Governor Tom Wolf Signs Bill Mandating that Naturopaths Register with the State
According to an article published by TRIB LIVE, the new Pennsylvania law will do two primary things:
Naturopathic.org describes naturopathy as a combination of “traditonal healing methods, principles and practices” and “holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatment.” Naturopathy turns to the body’s own system and ability for healing, often incorporating natural remedies, such as healthy diet, exercise, stress management techniques, and the use of supplements. Rather than treating a condition (for example, diabetes) with medication, a naturopath may instead try to find the root cause of the diabetes (like a diet high in processed foods and sugar), and then treat the root cause.
Naturopaths, just like doctors, need to go through an accredited program in order to register with the state of Pennsylvania. The law specifically requires that naturopaths in Pennsylvania complete a program of at least 4,100 hours, and pass a licensing exam. There are multiple universities throughout the country that offer naturopathic programs. There are currently 18 states, as well as the District of Columbia, that regulate naturopath doctors.
A Great Step for Naturopaths and Their Patients
The law is a wonderful step forward for both naturopaths and their patients; prior to the passing of the law (which will go in effect in January of 2018), nearly anyone could call themselves a naturopath, although many had only taken a six-week long online course. The new law will provide actual naturopaths with a job market and the ability to treat patients, and will help to protect patients from treatment from doctors who aren’t actually registered. The legislation was supported by the Pennsylvania Medical Society.
What’s Next for Naturopaths and Regulations in Pennsylvania?
While the law is certainly a step in the right direction, many people would like to see more changes to the law in the future. For example, requiring naturopaths to participate in continuing education courses, licensing naturopaths rather than just requiring them to register (which provides more oversight), and requiring naturopaths to carry medical malpractice insurance.
Medical malpractice insurance, and the requirement to carry it, is of particular interest. Because naturopaths often act as doctors, it makes sense that, in the event they commit an act of negligence, they should be held liable for a patient’s harm. But without medical malpractice insurance, paying a patient the damages they deserve could prove very difficult (the naturopath would have to pay for the claim out of pocket, which many may be unable to do).
While naturopaths may not be licensed in the state of Pennsylvania, they do owe patients a duty of care, and often prescribe remedies for ailments. Sometimes, these remedies are unwise, and other times, they are downright dangerous for a patient. Consider the case of a Carson City naturopath doctor who failed to diagnose their patient with cancer, ultimately leading to the death of the patient. (Read more about the story at ScienceBlogs.com). In addition to a lack of diagnosis, another type of medical malpractice that could be committed by a naturopath and affect a patient is a lack of appropriate treatment of a serious condition.
Some people do not believe that medical malpractice insurance should be required for naturopaths, as these doctors are not actually practicing “medicine.” However, naturopaths are indeed practicing a type of medicine, alternative thought it may be, and the risk of error is real, and could have serious consequences for a patient.
What Should I Do If I Have Been Harmed by the Actions of a Naturopath?
Pennsylvania’s new law is great - there should be requirements for naturopaths to call themselves such, and naturopaths should have to register with the state in order to protect patients. What’s more, the state should absolutely recognize forms of alternative medicine, as traditional treatment approaches may not be appropriate for or desired by all patients.
If harm does occur, though, the patient needs to take action against the naturopath just as they would a doctor. Further, the elements of a claim against a naturopath mirror those of the elements against a physician: Proving that a duty of care existed between naturopath and patient, establishing that the duty of care was breached, and proving that had the breach not occurred, the patient would not have suffered harm. And, just like a medical malpractice claim, a person who has suffered at the hands of a naturopath has the right to seek compensation for all of their injuries, both economic and noneconomic.
Call Our Law Firm Today
At the law firm of Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C., we are excited about the new law and hope that it will help to keep patients safe in our state. However, we also realize that regulations or not, errors and negligence do happen, and patients do suffer as a result. If you seek naturopathic medicine and suffer harm as a result of your practitioner's negligence, please contact our law offices for a free case consultation to learn more about how we can represent you during your claim for compensation. Contact us online or by phone today!